BUSH TARGETS MARIJUANA SMOKERS
New super-strength marijuana readily available on US streets is
prompting the White House to change direction in its war against drugs.
Research from the government-sponsored Marijuana Potency Project
claims today's cannabis is more than twice as strong as in the
mid-Eighties, leading to greater health risks for those smoking it at
increasingly younger ages.
Now President George Bush, who had already promised a more aggressive
campaign against substance abuse, has ordered that resources be
allocated to fighting so-called 'soft' drugs instead of concentrating
on harder forms, such as heroin and cocaine.
'We are working hard on education, but unfortunately a lot of today's
parents are under the impression marijuana is harmless and that their
kids trying it is some kind of rite of passage,' said Jennifer de
Vallance, of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
'They might have had experience in their own teenage years with no
problems, but this is not the same marijuana as in the Sixties,
Seventies and Eighties. Today's forms are much stronger and
potentially more harmful, especially to young people whose brains are
not fully developed and are therefore more susceptible to adverse reactions.'
The Marijuana Potency Project, at the University of Mississippi,
analysed more than 30,000 samples seized over the past 18 years by the
authorities. It found that the average level of the active ingredient
in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), jumped from 3.5 per cent in
1985 to more than 7 per cent in 2003.
Of more concern to the analysts is that the upward trend appears to be
continuing. The average potency of 20 marijuana samples seized and
tested so far this year exceeds 9 per cent, with a peak of 27 per cent
in one batch from a state in the North West.
'Today's marijuana is a much more serious problem than the vast
majority of Americans understands,' said John Walters, the
government's director of drug control policy who has promised a
clampdown on producers.
Those who support the legalisation of cannabis are not convinced.
'Whenever government officials speak about drugs issues, a more
detailed examination of the facts is a good idea,' said David Borden,
executive director of the Washington-based Drug Reform Coordination
'These projects are always government-funded and, without criticising
the researchers, officials take what they want from it and send out
their press releases. There has always been a wide range of potencies.
It doesn't mean people are getting more intoxicated, because the
higher the potency, the less they smoke.'
Figures suggest overall drug use in America's high schools has fallen
by 11 per cent in two years but the National Centre on Addiction and
Substance Abuse reports the number of children and teenagers receiving
treatment for marijuana abuse jumped 142 per cent over the last
decade, and that emergency hospital admissions of 12 to 17-year-olds
in which marijuana was implicated rose 48 per cent in four years.
Borden acknowledges children must be steered away from drugs, but
says: 'Their anti-drugs efforts have had a paradoxical effect in
promoting the underground cultivation of marijuana. The number of
users makes it an appealing target and there is no limit to the number
of arrests that can be made, and the government uses those numbers to
scare the public into thinking there is some big problem.
'All the government has been able to do is encourage people to
experiment with stronger drugs than they would have before.'